The glory of “The House” has faded, but Mama Dot Taylor and her daughter Charlene Napper sat in the kitchen and praised God. For 62 years, the row house at 406 North Alfred Street has been their sanctuary. On Saturday afternoon, sunlight filled the small kitchen and Mama Dot opened a window to let out the heat. Outside, there was the sound of hammers and electric drills.
“Mama and I have been together so long we sound like sisters. I never sass her, but we get into heated conversations,” said Charlene. “My mother can do more than I can. I’m very limited by my mobility. She’s 97 years old and I’m 78, and she’s still taking care of me.”
The conversation was interrupted by a volunteer work crew from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. “We just wanted to tell you ladies that we are going to be coming into this room,” said crew leader Brent Blevins, who later said: “We wanted to do something that directly affected people in need in honor of the April 16 shooting [of students on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007.] There’s a lot of history in this place, and we want future generations of the Taylor family to thrive here.”
On Saturday, more than 1,000 volunteers participated in National Rebuilding Day with non-profit Rebuilding Together Alexandria. In four years, volunteers have planted gardens, installed a wheelchair ramp, new toilets and grab bars and have painted the house. Blevins and his crew installed a hand rail and did some basic home and plumbing repairs.
The work on the Taylor residence totals about $10,000, said RTA Executive Director Katherine Medina. “They wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” she said. “Many of our clients can’t afford to leave their homes and pay the monthly fee for a retirement center. And because they’ve raised families in their homes, they want to stay. We help them do that.”
The Taylor family was living in the projects when Charlene became pregnant in 1949. “I was 16, and we couldn’t stay in the projects anymore and had to leave,” she said. “This was completely a white neighborhood back then, but there was no problem. We lived in this house and I thank goodness they were the type of neighbors who said ‘Good morning,’ every day. We didn’t visit each other’s homes, but if we saw each other, we were friendly. There was never a problem.”
Charles Taylor ensured that his 16-year-old daughter got married to 20-year-old Louis Napper. “He was upset, but my dad defied anyone to say anything bad about me. I was his princess,” Charlene said. “He accepted it as life. It happened. I was pregnant and nobody shoved it in my face. I was surrounded by love.
“We lived in the basement and were married for 17 years. We’re still friends, but he comes over here and I tell him: ‘Louis, if you don’t get out of here I’m going to divorce you again!’”
The home was granted to the Taylors in 1949 by the Young Women’s Christian Association, according to Alexandria City records. “To me, it was like moving into a mansion from the projects,” said Dorothy “Dottie” Taylor. “This house is the backbone of our family, because it was here that I started it. And, it so happens that I was the only child in my family, so I am very attached to this place.”
Dorothy’s three sons Charles Alvin, Donald and John lived at the home until they got married. Patriarch Charles Taylor died a few years ago at 92. Charlene’s son and grandson, Erich and Marlon Napper, live in the house and take care of the ladies.
“I lost two sons to cancer, but the Lord left Erich for me,” said Charlene. “The house has so many memories for us. I can’t imagine living anywhere else but here. I ain’t going nowhere. They’re going to have to take me out of here.
“Not too long after we moved in the first black YWCA in the city opened next door, so there were always people running in and out of the house. If you would come to Alexandria and wanted to know how to get to the Taylor household, you’d ask for ‘The House’.”
But the household has no budget for repairs. “I thank Rebuilding Together every day of my life,” Charlene said. “They are a blessing to anyone that needs their services. We are so blessed. There are a lot of folks who want more and are never satisfied, but thank God we’ve always been grateful and have never wanted more. It’s not how much you have, it’s how you take care of it.”